Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Australia - First Stop Adelaide

The infamous magpie-larks
So, we are finally in Australia.  But first a little about our journey here from Indonesia.

We were both dreading the flight, each for different reasons.  Paul was returning after an absence of nearly 20 years, and he had seen little of his family during that time (apart from his mother who came over to England 10 years ago and his brother who visited in 2007).  He hadn’t seen his father or his sister since he left the last time in 1994.

On the other hand I was imagining all sorts of things would go wrong.  For example, I was convinced that I had got the date wrong by which I had to enter Australia and they would send me on the first flight back to the UK, or that I would be unwittingly carrying something unacceptable in my luggage and upon this being discovered I would be sent back on the first flight to the UK.  All my fears were, of course, ridiculous and steeped in anxiety ridden paranoia but I had never entered a country as an immigrant before.

Warning of magpie attach!
The flight left at 1 o’clock in the morning and was not altogether unpleasant despite limited legroom.  The air stewardesses were remarkably human and went out of their way to try to accommodate Paul, directing him to an empty row so he could stretch out in comfort.  However, we already had 3 seats to ourselves so once we were in flight he unbuckled and was able to spread out a bit.  The empty row was then offered to another lanky passenger and the stewardess advised he place a bag in the row otherwise it would be snaffled by someone else.  Another stewardess piped up and said “oh there have been fights before, fisticuffs you know, about extra seats” with a nod and knowing smile.

The food was surprisingly passable, not least because it was beef and for the first time in a long time, we knew it was actually beef.  Much to the delight of Paul and a group of lads seated nearby, second helpings were offered all round.

We took off earlier than scheduled and landed even earlier (the benefit of being the last flight out and one of the first in).

Paul stood in the queue with me for immigration.   We soon found ourselves at the head of the queue, went to the next available desk, where the officer asked us several questions (many of which I didn’t know what answer she wanted, such as “where have you spent most of your time?”  “Err, China?”  No, actually she meant in my life.).

Typical building in Adelaide with wrought ironwork
After less than two minutes she had stamped my passport with date of entry and handed back our passports.  There was no “Welcome to Australia”, no confirmation in my passport that I have permanent leave to remain in the country or permission to work.  There was bugger all.  I said to her in a disappointed little voice “Is that it?”  She smiled broadly and said, “Yes, it’s all on here” pointing to her screen.  Oh the wonder of the computer age.

It was all a bit of an anti-climax; all that money, all that form filling and gathering of documents and a six months wait for confirmation and then I swan through immigration like a native.

Customs was just as bad (or good, depending on your view really).  You hardly get any sleep on the plane for the pilot banging on about what you can and can’t bring into the country (mainly what you can’t) from foodstuffs to anything made of wood, plant or animal products.  The list is as long as your arm and you begin to think that everything in your luggage will fall into one category or another but you really don’t want to be subject to a full search.

One of Adelaide's Cathedral
We ticked “no” in all the boxes but then we were approached by a women in the customs hall and Paul mentioned a lacquered box we had bought in Vietnam (one of our few souvenirs) so we were directed to the red lane.  When we reached the head of the queue (remarkably quickly I have to add) an officious looking customs official was obviously thinking about giving us a thorough going over but then another, much more reasonable one actually dealt with us, led us to one of the desks where we whipped out the offending box.  This second official examined it and said he thought it was fine.  We also showed him Paul’s Mongolian chess set (made out of resin so also fine), then he had a good look at the soles of our boots and sent me in the back room to scrub mine, but then we were sent on our merry way. 

I was half expecting to be hosed down and fumigated but we were out of there within half an hour, finding ourselves in Adelaide Arrivals hall at 7.30am, a bit bleary eyed and a bit dumb struck at how easy it all was.

Then we braced ourselves to chop off an arm each to buy a cup of coffee and found that a regular cappuccino cost just $4.60, in an airport, less than a lot of places on our travels and certainly less than a UK airport.  So we put our chainsaws away and enjoyed a cup of coffee outside in the undercover smoking decked area.  This was another thing we weren’t expecting, as smoking, everyone would have you believe has been outlawed everywhere.  This is clearly not the case and the smoking area was busier than the inside cafĂ©.

A pelican
We were both obviously very tired.  We hadn’t had much sleep on the plane and knew that we would probably have to wait for our room at the hostel so we left it an hour or so before we headed off to catch a cab into Adelaide city centre.  Once again, we were pleasantly surprised that the cost of this was less than $30.

Paul sat in the cab wondering where the hell he was because he didn’t recognise any of it.  He also commented that when we landed he couldn’t believe how many lights he could see in the hills beyond Adelaide as when he was here last no-one lived there (threat of bushfires) and you could only see the lights of the single road running up and through the hills.  As we travelled through from the airport he couldn’t believe how much the city had sprawled outwards and this was to continue to astound him throughout our stay.

Black swans in the park
We arrived at the hostel and luckily our room was ready.  We dumped our bags, admired the view from our balcony of the hills to the east and the dead possum on the electricity pole just over the road.  Possums apparently meet their end quite often in this manner, climbing up poles and getting electrocuted.  I was disappointed that this was the first indigenous mammal I had seen in Australia and the bloody thing was dead!

However, birds abound in Adelaide of all different variety but there is an abundance of parrots.  Mainly rainbow lorikeets which are mainly dark green with orange necks and purple heads but red and yellow feathers too, hence the name.  And they are noisy, much noisier than the ring-necked parakeets we get in London.  Then there were the white cockatoos, galahs, big fat sparrows, miner birds, and the infamous magpie-larks that have been known to attack when nesting.  Indeed, we came across a rather funny sign while walking around the city, warning you not to beware of these creatures and not to retaliate as this only winds them up more apparently.

A cormorant drying off by the river
We also saw ibis, pelicans, cormorants and black swans.  It was strange to see this range of feathered wildlife in a city.

We spent a lot of our time for the first few days just wandering about.  Adelaide was the first place in Australia to be planned as a colony solely for free immigrants and does not have a convict history.  The city was much more pleasant than I expected and it had a lot of beautiful old buildings, particularly in the part of town where we were staying in the south east of the city.

There are lots of green open spaces, some very old and large trees in the parks, and there are hundreds of churches, earning it the title “City of Churches”.

Ibis in the park
It is largely designed on a grid system and it is easier to find your way around.  The Central Business District (CBD) is about the size as the City of London but the city itself sprawls to lots of outer suburbs which now reach far into the hills.

We wandered about quite a bit and the weather was kind considering winter was just about to begin.  Saying that, we were ill equipped for the chilly nights and had to do a bit of urgent shopping as the beach attire we had in our rucksacks just wasn’t going to be suitable.

As the Australian dollar is so strong at the moment, most prices seem very expensive not least because we had just arrived from south east Asia where the pound goes a very long way indeed.  Beer and cider is bordering on extortionate but wine is actually ridiculously cheap (which is rather convenient as I do like the odd glass of red).

The view across the bay from Port Adelaide
After a few days of acclimatising ourselves with Adelaide we caught up with Paul’s parents, his brother and his new wife and baby, and Paul’s sister.  For me, it was lovely to finally meet my in-laws having only ever spoken on the phone.  This was all making me feel very much at home.

We went to a folk festival at The Gov (a famous venue in the north of the city) where Paul’s brother performed with the headliner.  It was an afternoon affair and we met some of Paul’s brother’s friends and suffice to say, lots of jugs of cider were bought and consumed, and a good time was had by all.

We also met up with a Facebook friend we had never met in person before but you would never have known it.  We spent hours chatting and catching up like old friends.  This was probably another of the reasons Australia didn't feel so far away from home at times.

It's a whale...honest!
Paul also caught up with Sue, an old friend, who was able to bring him up to date with all the changes that had happened since he was last in Adelaide nearly 20 years ago. 

We ended up staying in Adelaide 9 days in total and managed to fit in a bit of sightseeing, particularly once we had taken delivery of the car that Paul’s dad was kindly lending us indefinitely.  Being mobile meant we could explore further afield and we drove around the Glenelg area on the coast which is much more built up than it was 20 years ago but with a really quite charming seaside town feel about it.  The tram in Adelaide runs from the entertainment centre to the north of the city all the way down to Glenelg but that is also expensive at nearly $5 a ride.

Waiting for whales
We also drove down the Fleurieu Peninsular and made a day trip of it with Sue.  On the way down I was delighted to see my first kangaroos, and even more delighted when we reached Port Elliott and saw at least 3 whales that had arrived early to shelter in the perfect conditions of Encounter Bay.  The mothers and calves settle in the area for the winter while the males protect them from predators such as sharks.  They started to arrive some years ago and more and more turn up each year attracting thousands of whale watchers.

The whales were quite far out to sea but once we spotted them we could have watched them for hours.  We eventually decided to head back to the car from the lookout point and just before we climbed inside, one of the whales gave us a spectacular display as he leapt out of the water.  It was a classic sight and caused me to jump up and down like a 5 year old shrieking “Look!  Look!  Look!” scaring the living daylights out of the elderly couple in the car next to us.

Rainbow lorikeets
Needless to say, being wildlife, I was not able to capture much on camera but it was amazing to see them. 

We drove down to Port Elliott along the coast and back up through the hills and it was beautiful green scenery, not unlike Wales, with lots of sheep but, alas, no more kangaroos.

My first impressions of Australia were positive.  It didn't seem as alien as I thought it would.  People were friendly, the names were familiar, and everyone spoke English.  When I visited Vancouver 10 years ago I was surprised as how foreign the country felt.  I think part of the reason Australia did not feel that way to me was because we had just spent 9 months travelling through Russia, China and south east Asia, all countries which could not be more different than home.  It did however feel very far away from friends and family back home.

The full moon with the Adelaide hills in the distance
I was relieved I hadn't yet seen any deadly spiders or snakes and I had no wish to change this although Paul continues to assure me on a regular basis that he could dig up a redback anytime I really needed proof.  I continue to decline his kind offer.

By the end of our 9 days in Adelaide we were keen to get to Melbourne.  Hostel living, with shared kitchen and laundry facilities (and grumpy Italians) were beginning to take their toll on our patience.  After such a long time continually on the move we were both looking forward to being settled for a bit, find somewhere to live and hopefully find work.

We planned to take a couple of days to make the trip along the Great Ocean Road, a 3 day road trip which would mark the end of over 9 months travelling, which we agreed wasn’t a bad way to end such an amazing journey.

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